is no scatheless rapture. love and time put me in this condition. I am
leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts of men and animals
yearn to travel. Were called to it. I feel it pulling at me, same as
everyone else. It is the last unmapped country, and a dark way getting
there. A sorrowful path. And maybe not exactly Paradise at the end. The
belief Ive acquired over a generous and nevertheless inadequate time
on earth is that we arrive in the afterlife as broken as when we
departed from the world. But, on the other hand, Ive always enjoyed a
Cloudy days, I sit by the fire and talk nothing but Cherokee. Or else I sit silent with pen and paper, rendering the language into Sequoyahs syllabary, the characters forming under my hand like hen- scratch hieroglyphs. On sunny days, I usually rock on the porch wrapped in a blanket and read and admire the vista. Many decades ago, when I built my farm out of raw land, I oriented the front of the house to aim west toward the highest range of mountains. It is a grand long view. The river and valley, and then the coves and blue ridges heaved up and ragged to the limits of eyesight.
Bear and I once owned all the landscape visible from my porch and a great deal more. People claimed that in Old Europe our holdings would have been enough land to make a minor country. Now I have just the one little cove opening onto the river. The hideous new railroad, of which I own quite a few shares, runs through my front yard. The black trains come smoking along twice a day, and in the summer when the house windows are open, the help wipes the soot off the horizontal faces of furniture at least three times a week. On the other side of the river is a road that has been there as some form of passway since the time of elk and buffalo, both long since extinguished. Now, mules drawing wagons flare sideways in the traces when automobiles pass. I saw a pretty one go by the other day. Yellow as a canary and trimmed with polished brass. It had a windshield like an oversized monocle, and it went ripping by at a speed that must have been close to a mile a minute. The end of the drivers red scarf flagged straight out behind him, three feet long. I hated the racket and the dust that hung in the air long after the automobile was gone. But if I was twenty, Id probably be trying to find out where you buy one of those fast bastards.
The night has become electrified. Midevening, May comes to my room. The turn of doorknob, click of bolt in hasp. The opening door casts a wedge of yellow hall light against the wall. Her slender dark hand twists the switch and closes the door. Not a word spoken. The brutal light is message enough. A clear glass bulb hangs in the center of the room from a cord of brown woven cloth. New wires run down the wall in an ugly metal conduit. The bare bulbs little blazing filament burns an angry cloverleaf shape onto my eyeballs that will last until dawn. Its either get up and shut off the electricity and light a candle to read by, or else be blinded.
I get up and turn off the light.
May is foolish enough to trust me with matches. I set fire to two tapers and prop a polished tin pie plate to reflect yellow light. The same way I lit book pages and notebook pages at a thousand campfires in the last century.
Im reading The Knight of the Cart, a story Ive known since youth. Lancelot is waiting where I left him the last time. Still every bit as anguished and torn about whether to protect his precious honor or to climb onto the shameful cart with the malefic dwarf driver, and perhaps by doing so to save Guinevere, perhaps have Guinevere for his own true love. Choosing incorrectly means losing all. I turn the pages and read on, hoping Lancelot will choose better if given one more chance. I want him to claim love over everything, but so far he has failed. How many more chances will I be able to give him?
Excerpted from Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier Copyright © 2006 by Charles Frazier. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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